There are many arguments for and against the digital piano, but technology has advanced so much in the last few years that the arguments against are diminishing rapidly.
The digital piano was first introduced in around 1984 by Yamaha, and was designed to serve as an alternative to a traditional acoustic piano. The sound that was produced in the 80’s was a lot different back then, and was largely criticised for not sounding like a real piano and for the touch and feel not hitting the mark. This was true, but it didn’t stop millions of people buying this new alternative, and there was a very good reason for it.
Here are some of the many reasons why people turned to the digital piano and continue to do so today –
• There was a volume button, as well as the option to use headphones. This allowed the player to practice whenever they liked without disturbing anyone.
• The digital piano is generally less expensive, and is also cheaper to maintain because they don’t require tuning.
• They are not effected by room temperature and climate changes, and can be placed anywhere in the house, like basements for practicing.
• They have features which assist in learning and practicing.
• They can record at the touch of a button, and the digital pianos of today have the capability of recording straight to a USB stick which can quickly be turned into an MP3 audio file. This in turn allows a recording to be shared instantly through YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter without the need for microphones and expensive recording equipment.
• Most models are a lot smaller and lighter, so take up less space and are easy to transport and deliver (especially getting them up flights of stairs).
• Most (if not all) digital pianos include more sounds than just the standard piano. For example, honky-tonk piano, strings, guitars, organs etc.
Overall, the introduction of these features for many people made the piano seem more fun and less serious than it needed to be. Traditionally, learning to play the piano was very formal and could come across as very scary for anyone wanting to learn. If you ask anyone to guess what it would be like to learn the piano, I’m sure most people would have a picture in their mind of some old school teacher type person making you practice a million scales whilst hitting you on the hands with a ruler if you mess up. I might have exaggerated slightly here, but you can see where I’m coming from.
So with the introduction of a digital piano, not only was the piano more affordable and easier to fit into your attic or basement, but all of the extra features exposed the instrument to a wider audience.
I remember working in a music shop about 10 years ago which sold both digital and acoustic pianos, and it amazed me how often the digital was being ignored by the older generation. I once had an older lady (about 50 years old) enter the shop looking for a piano for the school hall. She had about £2,000-£3,000 to spend, so I showed her a Yamaha acoustic upright as well as a digital Yamaha Clavinova. Or I tried should I say! She instantly refused to look at the Clavinova and went straight to the acoustics. This was fine for me at the time because all I was interested in was selling her a piano and making some commission. But after she explained to me what she wanted it for, and how it was going to be used to help young kids learn to play, I couldn’t help but think that she would benefit more from the Clavinova. In the end I couldn’t help but push her towards the digital, and after showing her what it could do and how some of the features would help her when teaching, she started to realise how wrong her initial reaction had been. A week later she came back and bought the digital, so I was glad that I’d opened her eyes to other alternatives.
Skip forward to the present day and the digital piano is now widely accepted throughout the world, and perceptions have changed massively. Famous pianists of today regularly use digital pianos, like Jools Holland and Elton John. The reason for this is that technology has advanced considerably in the last 10 years, and the digital piano is as close to the real thing as it gets.
However, this doesn’t mean to say that it is better than an acoustic. As far as the actual sound and touch, you still can’t beat the real thing, and I don’t think you probably ever will; but the problem these days is price. If you are like me and you want a piano to have a sound that is sharp, crisp and as close to a grand piano as possible, and you don’t want to spend £10,000; then a digital is the way forward. I recently bought a Kawai ES7 for £1,200 and it sounds fantastic. The piano sound has been sampled from a real grand piano, so it means I don’t have to spend a lot to get an amazing sound. You could spend £5,000 on a baby grand acoustic that wouldn’t sound as good!
So for me, digital wins every time because they are so cheap for the sound they produce, and the overall look of a piano isn’t important to me as I like to have it sat next to my PC for recording, which means I don’t have a lot of space. If I did however have lots of room and lots of money, then I would love to own a grand piano as well.
There are still a large number of people out there that would argue that a digital piano is a waste of money, and that it doesn’t beat the real thing. I think this really depends on your circumstances and what you ultimately want out of the piano. If you love the way a real piano looks and sounds, and not only want a piano to play but to have as a piece of furniture in your living room that looks fantastic, then the real thing is what you want – and understandably. If however you like to experiment with different sounds, like to record, and want a great piano sound without spending too much, then a digital is the obvious choice…